Edwin Duterte, a California Republican who has announced he will challenge Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) next year for her seat in Congress, is promoting his campaign through his paid profile on a social media platform tailored to white supremacists.
Duterte, a real estate investment adviser with no experience in politics, set up a paid, verified profile on Gab.ai, a social network that has become popular among white nationalists and neo-Nazis who are banned from other platforms. In an introduction post in October, Duterte used the popular “GabFam” hashtag and called his opponent in California’s 43rd district — a prominent African American woman in Congress who is a leading figure in the anti-Trump resistance — “Mad Maxine Waters.”
Gab launched in 2016 and describes itself as an “ad-free social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online.” While it may not explicitly side with the political right, its green frog logo closely resembles the Pepe the Frog meme that was popularized by members of the white nationalist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.”
Far-right extremists, many of whom are banned by Twitter and Facebook for violating their terms of service, use Gab as a platform to share hate speech. Prominent users include Milo Yiannopoulos, who is permanently banned from Twitter, and Roger Stone Jr., who Twitter recently suspended after he sent expletive-filled tweets insulting media personalities. Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer who is currently hiding from litigation, became an active Gab user when web domains refused to host his site.
In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, when tech giants began to distance themselves from far-right extremist groups, Google removed Gab from the Google Play Store for violating its hate speech policy. Gab has sued Google over the decision, alleging that the tech giant is violating antitrust laws. In its complaint, Gab noted that it raised more than $1 million through a crowdfunding initiative since July.
Duterte, the son of Filipino immigrants, has posted on Gab more than 200 times, writing multiple posts per day since he created his “pro” account in mid October. According to its website, Gab charges users $5.99 per month for its premium subscription service that allows people to become verified and offers additional private chat options and live video streaming. Gab CEO Andrew Torba said in July that he had 2,200 pro users funding the site’s operations.
Amid many comments about the World Series, Duterte has also solicited feedback from Gab users about what policies he should prioritize in his campaign. In one response, Duterte tagged “The Wall” and said: “I am aligned with Trump’s administration on immigration.” He also explains that he thinks the United States needs to “make English our official language.”
His opinions about baseball and politics sometimes overlap. On October 25, he wrote: “Man now I just want someone to photoshop Puig driving one into Mad Maxine’s face,” referring to Los Angeles Dodgers player Yasiel Puig.
Duterte cross-shares many of his Gab posts on Twitter, but that comment he reserved just for Gab. It generated three up-votes.
Though Duterte does not make explicit, incendiary comments about race himself, he engages with other Gab users who do not hold back their white nationalist opinions. After someone with the username “TwitterSucksHillarysBalls” told Duterte “I dont want a single fkn jew in the US,” Duterte responded by saying: “I am cool with every race.”
“This isnt some statement saying you should do this or you shouldnt do that,” Duterte told a user who mocked his statement saying he accepts all races. “If you want to only be with people you identify with, go ahead. None of my business.”
Another user quoted one of Duterte’s post to say that the United States is not the best country because it’s no longer 85 percent white. Though he said he disagrees, Duterte continued to engage in conversation.
“Thank you for all the support!” he wrote on October 27. “I love the #GabFam !!!”
In an emailed statement to ThinkProgress, Duterte defended his use of Gab and said that attacking Gab “while turning a bling eye to the same terrible people who exist on other social platforms” is “fake news.”
“I am a firm believer in free speech and intend to communicate across all forms of media, which includes speaking on the Gab platform,” he wrote. “Gab is a neutral and free platform. Anyone can sign up and hit ‘compose.'”
In response to a question about why he would interact with people with white nationalist, neo-Nazi opinions, Duterte said that his girlfriend is of Russian-Jewish heritage and his campaign includes a diverse group of people.
“The bad actors on Gab have not scared me from spreading our message to the great people on there, including healthcare workers in our district,” he added. “Fascists and white supremacists are un-American sons of bitches and so I have debated and destroyed them first hand.”
The California GOP did not respond to requests for comment.
Duterte isn’t the only declared political candidate with a profile on Gab. Omar Navarro, a Trump supporter and Republican candidate who is also challenging Waters in California’s 43rd district, appears to have a profile, although it is unverified and inactive.
Augustus Invictus, a white nationalist who was scheduled to speak at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and who is running for Senate in Florida, has an unverified profile that he has used to share nine posts. Ten months ago, Invictus said on Gab that he was “Banned from Facebook until February 6th.” Since then, he has shared an Andrew Breitbart quote and a link to information about a video in which he appears with Christopher Cantwell, the white supremacist and “crying Nazi” depicted in the VICE documentary about the Charlottesville rally.
Nine months ago, Invictus also seemed to incite violence on Gab. “Kill your local Antifa,” he wrote. The post has 13 upvotes.